Cats Eye View: Has Watmore edged ahead of £9m ex-Bordeaux man in Sunderland pecking order?

Wahbi Khazri in action for Sunderland
Wahbi Khazri in action for Sunderland
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If Sunderland do manage to stay up, then the business done in January will have played a significant part in extending the club’s stay at the top table.

Sam Allardyce wasted no time in carrying out major surgery on his squad, with several high profile, high earners, either sold or leaving the club on loan.

It was a key move by Allardyce. And one he simply had to make. It paid dividends.

Richard Mennear

Costel Pantilimon, Danny Graham, Steve Fletcher, Sebastian Coates among those shown the exit door.

In came Jan Kirchhoff, Dame N’Doye, Steve Harper, Lamine Kone and Wahbi Khazri as Allardyce revamped his options.

Kirchhoff and Kone have made the biggest impact, helping add some steel - and a real touch of class - to the side’s spine.

N’Doye is yet to make a real impression, while veteran goalkeeper Harper was brought in as back-up to Vito Mannone and Jordan Pickford.

But it is the recent form of ex-Bordeaux winger Khazri that will be causing Allardyce the biggest headache.

The £9million man has started every game since making his full debut for the Black Cats.

Initially, Khazri took the Premier League by storm.

His workrate, pace, skill, deft touch and set piece delivery struck an instant chord with the Stadium of Light faithful.

Sunderland finally looked a threat from corners and free-kicks thanks to Khazri’s unnerving ability to find a red and white shirt.

He scored against Manchester United, direct from a free-kick, provided the assist for the winner and also played a key role in the dramatic comeback against Liverpool at Anfield.

But he hasn’t scored since and after being mocked for his failed rabona-kick in the away defeat at West Ham United, his form has dipped in recent weeks.

Subbed midway through the second half against Leicester City, he was hauled off at half-time at Carrow Road.

Indeed, the Tunisian winger has been subbed in each of his last five Sunderland games.

In the opening stages of the Leicester game Khazri looked a threat, keen to get at the Foxes defence at every opportunity.

But his threat dipped alarmingly and against Norwich City he was comfortably Sunderland’s worst player. Patrick van Aanholt ran him close first half, mind.

Too many times Khazri lost possession, he was caught out of position and between him and van Aanholt, they seemed reluctant to make a challenge down the left-hand side.

Norwich realised quickly and targeted that area of the field. And when Khazri was booked for a late challenge, Duncan Watmore was sent out to warm up.

Watmore, back on the bench after two months out with ankle ligament damage, was in deep discussions with first-team coach Robbie Stockdale throughout the first half.

It came as no surprise to see 25-year-old Khazri hauled off at the break.

It was a key move by Allardyce. And one he simply had to make. It paid dividends.

Watmore has his faults; his decision making needs to improve and his final ball could be better.

But there is no doubting his energy, endeavour, tireless workrate, speed and ability to get Sunderland motoring up the pitch quickly.

He provided an outlet in the second half and the counter-attacking style adopted by Sunderland suited his game to the ground.

Watmore capped the win with a smart finish in added-on time.

Khazri, on his day, remains a big asset and his delivery from set pieces is a major weapon in Sunderland’s armoury.

Yet, on current form, it would not be a surprise to see him dropped to the bench for the visit of Arsenal with Watmore - or perhaps even Seb Larsson - back in the side.

With a fully fit squad for the run-in, at least Allardyce now has good options to choose from as he ponders the selection dilemma.